Friday, September 7, 2012

On Breastfeeding...

Breastfeeding. Oh, breastfeeding. Such a hot button topic with moms. I hadn't really thought about it until well into my pregnancy, but once I started reading about it, I thought....oh, I can do that. It seemed easy, it's free, and there are many reported benefits for both mom and baby.

Ha. Hahaha. Easy?

Our breastfeeding journey has been anything but easy. I am not writing about my experience to turn anyone off of breastfeeding. I am writing about it because everything I read had me duped. I even took a class at the hospital. I was under the impression that it might take a little work for everything to be perfect, but that the whole process is instinctual for the baby and that it shouldn't be too hard. I learned about all the different holds, the anatomy of the breast and baby's mouth, and what a good latch should look like. What I didn't know was that it WILL be painful in the beginning, there is a serious learning curve, and there are lots of things you'll need that aren't free. I wish I knew what difficulties I would face so that I could have been truly prepared. I am pretty sure my Baby Blues were exacerbated by my BF experience. I felt a lot of guilt because I wanted to quit after just a few days (and I still have days where I seriously contemplate stopping), but hearing for other moms that what I was going through was normal helped me to power through.

So about that experience...

I BFed Caroline right after she was born. She latched on and went to town. I don't remember if it was painful that first time because the first hour or so after delivery was such a whirlwind. I was so overwhelmed with emotion and my new everything is a little fuzzy. Things started to be obviously painful that first night. Every time she latched on it really hurt. I had bruising on my areolas right away. By the time we went home my nipples were cracked and bleeding. I dreaded every feeding because the pain was so excruciating. Once my milk came in, I was so engorged that I couldn't sleep or lie down comfortably. Luckily the initial engorgement died down after a couple days. Seven weeks in though, and I am still not fully regulated and I still have pain when BFing. I also am constantly battling plugged milk ducts. I started taking 1200 mg of Lecithin 3x a day to help prevent them, but I still get one every few days. They are painful and make my breasts sore. You have to massage and apply warm compresses to get rid of them, which is particularly a pain in the middle of the night. I worry that a plugged duct will turn into mastitis, which is a nasty infection that I do not want to mess with. I had one plugged duct a couple weeks ago that left me with a red streak on my breast, one of the signs of mastitis. Luckily it went away after about a week and nothing materialized. But I was scared and freaked out the entire time it was there.

Then there is the gassiness, fussiness, and spit up. We still don't know what exactly is going on with Caroline, but these are all things we face daily. I am trying to eliminate certain things in my diet to see if we can identify what exactly is bothering her, but this proved to be difficult and also had me feeling guilty every time I ate something that could possibly irritate her. Two weeks ago we started to give her gas drops at every feeding (after an emergency trip to the pediatrician), which seem to be helping some. The spit up, however, is an ongoing issue. We go through many outfits, burp clothes, and blankets throughout the day. Caroline was slow to get back up to birth weight, which  can happen with BF babies....especially if they are spitting up a lot. She did eventually start gaining appropriately and we didn't need to supplement, but I felt like a real failure at her first pediatrician appointment, like I wasn't providing enough nourishment for my baby. Anyway, these things are not issues for every baby, but they aren't super uncommon either. I wish I had known this in the beginning so that we could have started gas drops sooner, and so I didn't panic every time she spit up or fussed like crazy.

I think my early experience would have been better if a few things happened differently. I wanted to meet with the lactation consultant on staff with the hospital when we were still in maternity, but she just happened to be on vacation that weekend. The nurses on maternity tried to help me with the latch, but a lot of their help was more in just getting her on, and they didn't have the time to sit and help me make sure she was on there right. I should have asked for more help from the nurses. I did end up meeting with two different LCs at the hospital's community health center during the first two weeks. They both helped us with our latch, but by the time I saw the second LC, there was so much damage to my nipples, that even a proper latch was painful. I was then prescribed All Purpose Nipple Cream to help heal my nipples, because Lansinoh and Motherlove weren't cutting it. Within a week or so the scabs and cracks had healed, but to this day, I am still tender. If it hadn't gotten to such a painful point, I might have fed her more and mastered everything quicker. She might have gained weight better if she nursed more often. Etc, etc, etc. I think everything just snowballed, and what might have been a minor issue (say, a plugged duct) felt like such a huge deal in light of everything else I was dealing with.

And as for breastfeeding being free? Perhaps if you take a super minimalist approach, but that just isn't realistic for most people. You need nursing bras and nursing tanks. You need creams and gel pads to help with the initial pain and burning. You need breast pads for the leaking. You need a pump. I ended up buying two....both a manual (for engorgement or just expressing a little milk here and there) and a double electric (for when I am away from Caroline during a feeding, to build up a frozen stash, or to pump so AJ can give her a bottle). These things add up quick. Most of the things just require an initial investment, but it certainly isn't "free".

Things are improving though. I can take a shower without shielding my nipples. I don't cringe when I put on breast pads and a bra. Caroline is now gaining weight as she should and definitely looks like she is filling out. And I really do cherish the time we spend nursing. Things aren't perfect yet, but I can see that they are getting better, and I am holding out hope that we'll be pros at this someday.


  1. Yowza. I'm due in November. I am determined to breast feed and keep telling myself it's going to hurt, it's going to be difficult, I'm going to cry. Thanks for the honest post. Not to discourage, but to educate. The more I know, the better. Thanks!

  2. I am very impressed you have stuck with it. I don't think I would be that strong!

  3. Jackie, I had toe curling pain with Spencer for the first 10 days and wanted to die. No blood, no cracked nipples, just excrutiating pain. I called a good friend who was a great breastfeeder and she said just get through the first two weeks and it gets better. It definitely did and we ended up nursing for 13 months (though it was a LOT less than you dealt with!!). With Peter, it was much easier. I think it's all because I knew what I was doing and because my body knew what to expect. I would highly recommend the bamboo and cotton reusable breast pads. I didn't use them the first time, bought some this time and I love them. They're so much softer! At night if he has a long stretch and I leak a lot, they aren't as absorbant as the disposable, but for the daytime, I love them.

    I've had milk protein intolerance with both boys and it's a pain in my frickin rear. I cannot express how frustrating it is to eat out and how badly I just want to eat cheese or drink a big glass of milk (and I don't even normally like milk all that much!). It's really hard to have a dietary restriction due to nursing and NO ONE will blame you if you want to stop because of it. Even the second time around it is really draining on me, maybe even more so this time. If you want to chat about it (or anything bfing related) just shoot me an email. I'm so glad things are getting better for you both!

  4. My nipples just cringed reading this post, cos a lot of us have been there :) And I agree- APNO saved my boobies when I was bf'ing in the beginning. It does get better though!! Don't compare yourself to others is the best advice I can give. When I finally pulled the plug on BF'ing, it was my choice, and I selfishly stopped because I was sick or wearing pasties EVERY SINGLE DAY for 6.5 months (because apparently I was a leaker). Feeling defeated, I called the lactation consultant to ask about quitting cold turkey, and while she didn't recommend it (didn't matter--because I was DONE) I'll always remember how she closed the convo (after some helpful pointers).. she said "And congrats on feeding your baby for [insert your time here]" -- it didn't even matter the length of time, it was just so nice to hear someone say that.. cos it really is an awesome thing to do.. but again, I've also been milk free for a year and it already feels like 10 years ago which is why I can sound so upbeat. But being pregnant with #2, my soar boobs are back with a vengeance!

    ps: don't ever quit cold turkey.. just wean

    1. update: the lactation consultant didn't recommend quitting cold turkey -- cos it my comment it sounded like I said she didn't recommend quitting bf'ing. They are women too, they understand!

  5. I'm glad you're hanging in there! I know what you mean about feeling like a failure - my son lost 10% of his birth weight by his 3 day appointment and I was so ashamed. I cried the entire way home and made my husband promise that he wouldn't tell anyone. Glad your gal is filling out!

  6. It saddens me that you felt unprepared. I wish more
    Women would talk about how hard and stressful it is. Those first 3 months with Eva were hell. But we powered through and enjoyed nursing for over 15 months and I wouldn't trade that for anything. Regardless of how any of this turns out - or how long you nurse - remember that YOU are the best mother for Caroline and as long as you keep loving her the way I know you do, you are doing a great job!!!